Morphy, yet again

Dec 4, 2010, 12:48 PM 5,850 Reads 13 Comments

A recent forum posting on Paul Morphy demonstrated, to me at least, how aspects of chess history, really any type of history, can be distorted through depending on Google for immediate "facts," instead of striving for understanding and truth.  This isn't to say that there is anything wrong with Googling for facts because unprecedented amounts of facts are available online, but the problem lies with having facts without understanding and understanding comes only with great effort.  Facts are tools.  Owning woodworking tools doesn't make one a cabinet maker.  Understanding wood and how tools can be used to create from wood makes one a cabinet maker.

Now, the posting itself makes no claims and simply quotes a source:

from Paul Morphy, His Later Life by Charles A. Buck
  When Dr. Zukertort was in New Orleans in 1882 he met Morphy on Canal street and handed him his card. Morphy put the card in his pocket without looking at it and then greeted the doctor by name speaking i n French. Zukertort was amazed, and exclaimed: "Why, how is it you know my name without looking at my card? And how did you know I speak French?" Morphy satisfied his curiosity by remarking: "I met you in Paris in 1867, and you spoke French then."

By simply posting the quote - with all indications that it should be taken at face value - without qualification demonstrates the downside of Googling for information rather than stiving for understanding. 
  And posting something one doesn't understand does a disservice to the casual reader.

This particular passage, along with many others given by Buck have been a source of contention over the years.  For those unfamiliar with David Lawson, I'd given his points of disagreements on my website in 2006.  While I don't believe in taking anyone's word for such things, I've always been confident that Lawson could back up his disagreements, and, in fact, he went to a great deal of discussion on the individual points in Paul Morphy: The Pride and Sorrow of Chess.

Let's examine what Lawson claimed:
"Zukertort did not meet Morphy in 1882 as Buck states he did, nor is it likely that they ever met.  Zukertort first visited New Orleans in 1884. "

    C.A. Buck, in his booklet Paul Morphy, His Later Life, states that J.H. Zukertort met Paul Morphy in New Orleans in 1882, and according to that account they had met before in Paris.  Zukertort was not in New Orleans in 1882. He first visited thare in 1884 from April 15 to May 21, but in the amle coverage of his visit in the American press and in his own magazine, the Chess Monthly, there is no suggestion of his meeting Morphy.
   Morphy died in July, 1884, seven weeks after Zukertort's visit, and Zukertort and his co-editor of the Chess Monthly designated the August issue of the magazine "The Morphy Number," saying:
                  'It is our duty to give expression to the high admiration we
                  have always entertained for the phenomenal genius of the
                  greatest master that ever lived.  As a slight mark of this
                  estimation we devote the present number to the memory
                  of the Chess Achilles'
Without doubt, Zukertort would have added to the long obituary some comment on his having met Morphy just two months before, if, in fact, he had."

Personally,  I can't find any problem with Lawson's explanation.  Zukertort did, indeed, claim to have met Morphy - Here is the newspaper report of the interview:

Salt Lake City Tribune

June 28, 1884

             An Interview With the Champion
            Chess Player of the World - The
            Games at the Alta Chess Club

            Dr. J. H. Zukertort, the champion chess player of the world
            was seen at the Walker House yesterday and talked quite freely
            about his trip, his career and other matters of interest. The
            doctor is a man of small stature, possessing a quick, bright eye
            and an intelligent countenance. He is a Russian by birth, but
            received his early training in Germany, where he resided until
            1872 when he became a subject of Great Britain. He speaks with
            a slight German accent and is one of the most agreeable and
            unaffected of men. By profession he is a physician, but has not
            practiced for many years. He has been for some years past the
            publisher of The Chess Monthly, an English publication issued from
            15 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London. At present he is on a
            tour around the world, giving public exhibitions at those places
            where he has been specially engaged to do so. He has visited
            almost all the principal cities of the East and has been as far North
            as Manitoba and as far South as the Gulf of Mexico. He visited
            New Orleans on his Southern trip and had several talks with
            Paul Morphy, at one time the wonder of the world at chess.
            Morphy has been demented for years, and of course has given
            up chess altogether not having played for twenty years past.
                 The Doctor is on his way around the world, remaining here
            til Monday next and then going to San Francisco, where he plays
                        several exhibition games. Thence be gone to Japan and China
            and finally to India, expecting to reach London about the first
            of January, 1885. He has already received a number of invitations
            from Maharajas of India, who act as princes of small principalities.
            India being the birthplace of chess, the Doctor expects to derive
            much pleasure from his visit there, although the best players
            there are not natives but Englishmen.
                 "Where did you find the best players in this country?" asked
            the reporter.
                 "In New York and Philadelphia. Dr. Mackenzie of New York
            is of course the best player in this country. artinez of Philadelphia
            is a strong player and so is Max Judd of St. Louis. There are also a
            number of good players in Chicago. The best chess players I have
            found so far in the West are at Leadville. Mr. Jones, a lawyer of
            that city, being a very strong player. At Denver there are no good
            players at all, their playing not even entitling them to be ranked as
            amateurs. I have met but two gentlemen of this city, and I think
            their playing compares favorably with the Leadville men, although
            I don't think either of them a match for Mr. Jones of that city."
                 "How long have you been playing chess?"
                 "I began playing when I was about 19 years of age. Prior to that
            I scarcely knew the moves on the board. I have been almost
            constantly before the public since 1873, although I have not played
            continuously since then."
                 "Did you have any special mental training that [prepared] you
            for the role of chess player?"
                 When I was quite young, an old bachelor, who was very fond
            of mathematics, lived at my parents' homeland he early instructed
            me in that science.  He began with me when i was but five years
            of age and when I was seven years old, although I could neither read
            nor write, I could prove clearly that the square of the hypotenuse
            of a right triangle was equal to the sum of the square of the other
            two sides. I was also well versed in algebra and trigonometry, and
            also had a passion for all exact sciences. My memory has also been
            well cultivated.
                  A man must, I believe, to become a first class chess player be
            endowed with special faculties. These alone, however, will not
            make him a good player. He must truly study a great deal and
            must have opportunities of playing with better players than himself."
                 "How many games can you play blindfolded?"
                 "I have played as high as fifteen, and once I played sixteen. But
            twelve is about the highest number I usually play. These stories
            about men playing eighteen and twenty games are magnified
            newspaper accounts. I have played as high as sixty simultaneous
            games, but not blindfolded."
                 "I see that Steinitz has been attacking you in the public press
            since your arrival in this country. What does he mean by it?"
                 Steinitz is a quarrelsome man and has been expelled from all
            the clubs he ever belonged to in England. He insulted Max Judd
            in New York and has been trying to pick a chess quarrel with me
            through the papers. But I never take any notice of such attacks,
            for I hold that the only place to settle chess matters is over the board."
                 "What nation takes the lead in chess?"
                 "England does to-day. It is becoming more and more a national
            game there, and as usual with Englishmen, whatever they take hold
            of they strive to make a success of. Germany does not produce as
            strong players as she used to. France has had no great player since
            1840. Russia has a few good players ans America has her share."

Dr. Jeremy Spinrad had published a wonderful article on Buck at (Charles A. Buck, Or, Daring to Contradict Lawson).  Before he published it, he and I had some conversation on the matter, and, I think the result was that, while I could accept a lot of what he wrote, we had to respectfully disagree of certain points.  The part of his article that pertains to this one is:
8) Zukertort did not meet Morphy in 1882, as Buck states, nor is it likely that they ever met. Zukertort first visited New Orleans in 1884.  [Lawson's disagreement]
Although Buck is wrong on the date, Zukertort claimed in 1884 that he had met Morphy during his visit to New Orleans. He discusses this in an interview with a reporter for the Salt Lake City Tribune, which appeared on June 28, 1884. Thus, Buck is more accurate in his claim than Lawson in his denial, unless Zukertort (who was known to tell a whopper or two) lied about meeting Morphy. In any case, Buck cannot be faulted for believing Zukertort’s account of the meeting.

Lawson, of course, knew about the interview and argued that Buck's claim for Zukertort meeting Morphy in 1882 was, in fact, an impossibility. But beyond that, he believed that Zukertort's claim was a lie for the reasons given above.  Even Dr. Spinrad agrees that Zukertort wasn't above lying to promote himself. And, since Zukertort never even mentioned this meeting in his "Morphy-number" of the Chess Monthly, nor in earlier issues, his claim seems easily dismissed. Dr. Spinrad's objection validated Buck's honest attempt to find the truth but not the result of that attempt.


So, what can we conclude?  Did Zukertort meet Morphy several times in 1882 and have the conversation that Buck describes?  I can't say what transpired, but I can say what didn't. Zukertort did not meet Morphy at all in 1882.  Whether he met him in Arpil of 1884 is very questionable because their no indication, other than his statement, that he did, and it seems reasonable to question the veracity of a man who, according to the OCC, claimed falsely to be a doctor, who claimed falsely to have played Anderssen in over 6,000 games, who claimed falsely to have been a fencing master, a war hero (and recipient of the Iron Cross) and who claimed falsely to be able to speak 9 languages fluently and to have authored 2 books.  Zukertort was also off the money in claiming Morphy hadn't played chess "for twenty years past."
               I think it's not only reasonable, but most likely as Lawson suggests :
                                        Zukertort never met Morphy.

However, The obituary that Zukertort and Hoffer gave Morphy didn't lack in charm, and for that reason, I transcribed it below (without the games) for those interested:

The Chess-monthly, Volume 5  Aug. 1884
 by Leopold Hoffer, Johannes Hermann Zukertort
pp. 359-71

On the 12th ult. the daily Press announced by cable from New Orleans the sudden death of Paul Morphy, It was hoped, as on former occasions, that it might only prove a rumour. There is, however, very little doubt left now, and it is our duty to give expression to the high admiration we have always entertained for the phenomenal genius of the greatest master that ever lived. As a slight mark of this estimation we devote the present number to the memory of the Chess-Achilles. We give specimens of his play, taken from various sources, and the present will be the Morphy-number of the Chess-monthly. When we say that the games were taken at random, we mean that we have not chosen his best games; our main object was to give those readers who might not be familiar with Morphy's versatile style the means of forming a clear judgment of his capacity. He met each opponent on his own ground, and fought, so to speak, with the weapons chosen by his adversaries. With Harrwitz he played close games; with Anderssen open games; his games at odds are models of brilliant ingenuity; and his blindfold games could not have been better had they been contested over the board. The Rev. G. A. Macdonnell, in Chess Life Pictures, gives some valuable hints of Morphy in England from his personal knowledge of the man, and Mr. A. de Riviere, who was an intimate friend of Morphy, speaks of his sojourn in Paris, where ho was received in the highest circles, charming everybody with his modesty, affability, and manners of a thorough gentleman. We are indebted to the courtesy of the proprietors and Editor of the Field for the portrait of Morphy, and also for the following biography:—

     "Paul Charles Morphy was born on the 22nd of June, 1837, in New Orleans. His father (Judge Morphy, of the Supreme Court of Louisiana) tanght his boy the moves and the value of the pieces. Practical knowledge he acquired by watching his father play with his uncle (Ernest Morphy) and Mr. Ernest Roussean, both well-known players. The latter took part in the Paris International Tournament, 1867, and beat Winawer in the final game, thus securing the first prize for Kolisch, who would otherwise have tied with Winawer. The following incident revealed the geninus of the lad:—One day Mr. Ernest Morphy arrived rather earlier than usual to play his customary game with his brother, who had not then returned. Young Morphy volunteered to play in the meantime, and, to the astonishment of his uncle, beat him. Soon afterwards he beat the best players of New Orleans; and in 1810, at the age of twelve years, he beat Lowenthal two and a draw out of three games played.  From this period up to his eighteenth year he studied at the college of South Carolina, where he had very little time to devote to his favourite pastime, as Chess was not allowed to interfere with studies. He was then reading for the Bar.
     "In 1857 the first American Chess Congress was convened, and Paul Morphy was prevailed upon to take part in the contest. Another player who had acquired great local fame (L. Paulsen) had entered also. The latter, only about four years Morphy's senior, resided in Iowa, and was reputed as a blindfold player, that branch of Chess being then in its infancy. The result of the Tournament was, Morphy first and Paulsen second. After this success he remained a short time in Now York, and engaged the best players in matches and off-hand games, and carried everything before him. Out of ninety-seven-games played on even terms he only lost four, thus: Hammond he beat seven to one, Paulsen eight to one, Stanley (Blackburne's Chess tutor) twelve to one, and Schulten twenty-three to one. He also played a match with Stanley, conceding the Pawn and move; but Stanley resigned after having lost four games and drawn one. Returning to New Orleans, Morphy's friends sent a challenge to Howard Staunton, the English champion; but the negotiations having proved abortive, Morphy was induced to journey to Europe, in order to measure his strength with our renowned masters.
     "There is something extremely romantic and chivalrous in this lad coming over from America and throwing down the gauntlet to the Old World." Morphy arrived in London in June, 1858. The first game he ever played publicly in England was at the Divan, when Mr. F. H. Lewis was his opponent, and the result was a draw. Mr. Lewis was naturally very proud of his success. But we may add that Mr. Lewis was only proud when he heard the name of his opponent, because he did not know that it was Morphy he was playing with. In August he was present at the Birmingham meeting, but did not take part in the contest. At the close he gave a blindfold performance against eight opponents simultaneously. In the meantime negotiations were carried on with Staunton, but the latter was unwilling to interrupt his literary occupation for the sake of engaging in a Chess match of doubtful issue. Lowenthal, however, accepted the défi, and manfully acknowledged the superiority of the Transatlantic master after his defeat. The following is the result of Morphy's encounters in London :—With Lowenthal he won nine to three and three draws; with Barnes, nineteen to seven; with Bird, ten to one and one draw; with Boden, five to one and three draws; with the Rev. J. Owen, four to one. In a set match of seven games, giving the odds of Pawn and move to the Rev. J. Owen, the latter only succeeded in drawing two games. Of several consultation games, in which Staunton was opposed to him, Morphy never lost one. An unprecedented feat of his was when he played simultaneously against five such players as Boden, Bird, Lowenthal, Barnes, and De Riviere. Scores of games, giving large odds, he won of all the players, showing his stupendous superiority over every living antagonist.
     "From London Morphy continued his victorious career to Paris. Harrwitz reigned supreme there at that time, and a match was immediately arranged by Harrwitz's admirers. Morphy lost the first two games, and we have it on Mr. de Riviere's authority that, in walking home together after the loss of the second game, De Riviere asked him his opinion about the result of the match; whereupon Morphy replied, "Harrwitz will not win another game." He kept his word, and Harrwitz, feeling Morphy's superiority, pleaded ill-health and resigned the match. The score then stood: Morphy, five; Harrwitz, two and one draw. Morphy would not accept the stakes, and his opponent's backers devoted the money to defray part of the expenses of Professor Anderssen's journey to Paris for the purpose of playing a match with Morphy. The result of this encounter is well known. Morphy won with the splendid score of seven to two and two draws. He also beat Anderssen in off-hand games outside the match five to one. With De Riviere, a rising French player then, Morphy played a series of games, and won, of course, a very large majority. The last set match he contested against Mongredien; but the latter could only draw one out of eight games played. Morphy scored seven. The enthusiasm among the French players reached its culminating point when he engaged blindfold eight of the strongest amateurs simultaneously. Amongst his opponents were Baucher, Devinck, Guibert, and Seguin. Play lasted without intermission for ten hours. Crowds of spectators stood outside the Cafe de la Regence, waiting patiently to congratulate the victor; but he escaped the ovation by making his exit quickly by a side door. As a matter of course he played numerous off-hand games, both in the Regence and in society, of which he was the idol, just the same as in England. On his return to New York he received a public reception; a grand banquet followed, and he was presented by his countrymen with a board and set of Chessmen in gold and silver, to the value of £200."

Morphy was gifted with an extraordinary memory. A large majority of his games were dictated by him to a secretary who travelled with him and thus preserved in various languages.  Jean Preti published a collection of them in French, Lowenthal in English, and Dr. Max Lange in German. The difference between Morphy and our present masters is, that whereas the latter have devoted a lifetime to arrive at their perfection, Morphy appeared like a meteor and obscured all the shining lights of the period. None of our European veterans could withstand this precocious youth of twenty. Unfortunately domestic troubles blighted his rare intellect, and at his second visit to Paris, during the American war, he seemed to have lost his love for Chess, so that we have no records of his play during that period, with the exception of a few games contested with Mr. de Riviere, in 1861. Soon afterwards he abandoned Chess altogether, and, though a frequent visitor at Mr. de Riviere's house, he would never yield to the entreaties of Herr Neumann to play a game with him; but he would analyse positions, when the Congress-book of 1867 was edited for the Press. The remainder of his career is well known. He returned to his native country, but adverse circumstances wrought a terrible change on his mind, extinguishing his exuberant spirits, and he vegetated, blasé up to his untimely end. What Morphy has achieved in barely three years will compare favourably with the prowess of any past or living player. Match followed after match without preparation, preliminary negotiations or training. A freshness of style is noticeable in almost all of his games, and his combinations will always be remarkable for finesse, depth, elegance, and soundness.


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